The Emporium has a way of bringing the many worlds of personal needs and wants to citizens of Craig County. They include: household goods, foods of choice and delight, books and flags, get well remedies as well as knives and guns.
In the Emporium General Store, owner Phil Spence and his wife, Debbie, are always adding more to their store agenda. As has been done for five years, The Emporium will be celebrating Lee-Jackson Day. This year the occasion will be on Saturday, January 20. “We have celebrated this holiday since opening our store and will have free coffee and cake,” Spence said.
The original holiday was created in 1889 to celebrate the birthday of Robert E. Lee; Stonewall Jackson was added in 1904. It is a Commonwealth of Virginia holiday, and all state offices are closed.
The Emporium has books on both heroes, and many other sought-after biographies along with thousands of additional books on almost every subject.
“Virginia has a great history, and these two Virginia men are well worth studying,” Spence said. He believes that without Virginians, there would not have been the United States with their many past presidents: Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Lee, Jackson and others.
Spence shared much history of Robert E Lee and Thomas Jackson, some from memory and some from his vast collection of books.
“Lee was born on January 19, 1807. He was the son of Revolutionary War General Henry ‘Light Horse Harry’ Lee. R.E. Lee was a top graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, graduating without a single demerit incurred during his four years as a student,” Spence said. “He was said to have been an exceptional officer and was a military engineer serving in the U.S. Army for 32 years. He was stationed all around the U.S. and distinguished himself in the Mexican War of 1846-1848.”
Lee married Mary Custis, the great-great Granddaughter of Mary Custis Washington. Spence continued, “Mary inherited Arlington House, and it became the home of the Lee family. Arlington House was taken from the family at the beginning of the war and today; it is Arlington National Military Cemetery and a place of honor for all Americans.”
“Lee was pro-union, but he followed Virginia into the war with many good reasons. It was his home state, and his father had been a past Governor. In 1862, he took command of the Army of Northern Virginia. He was a shrewd military tactician and battlefield commander, winning most of his battles against far superior odds.”
On April 9, 1865, Lee surrendered his 8,000 troops to an army of 150,000. Spence will have copies of his General Order Number 9, including his farewell address to his troops.
It was just after the devastating fighting in Virginia at the Battle of the Wilderness but prior to the Battle of Spotsylvania, May 15-18, 1864, that Lee drafted an inspirational message to his troops on the back of a telegram from John D. Imboden.
Here is a small portion of his speech: “(The eyes of) your country looks to you in your gallant struggle with confidence and hope… Encouraged by the successes …. and sustained by prayers of those in whose defense you fight, let every man resolve to put forth his utmost efforts, to endure all and brave all, until by the assistance of a just and merciful God, the enemy shall… Some of our bravest officers and men have fallen…it depends on you to see that they shall not have died in vain… With the blessing of God, it is in your power to defeat the last great effort of the enemy, secure independence to your native land and earn for yourselves the lasting love and gratitude of your country….”
Spence explained that after the war Lee, like other southerners, had to be paroled, sign an oath of allegiance and apply for citizenship in the reunited country. “His application was mysteriously misplaced, and he lived out the rest of his life as a non-citizen until his death in 1870. In 1975, however, the U.S. Congress granted Lee citizenship,” he said.
Lee is buried at Lee Chapel in Lexington, Virginia, where he spent the final years of his life as President of Washington College, now known as Washington and Lee.
Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson was born January 21, 1824, and enrolled in the U.S. Military Academy in 1842 at age 18.
Spence continued his story, “He served with Lee in the Mexican War with distinction and by the end had been promoted to Major and was a nationally known war hero.”
“Stonewall was an eccentric genius! He hoped that Virginia would remain in the union, but when she seceded, Jackson, like Lee, decided not to fight against his home state. He was placed in command of the VMI cadets, and this was the beginning of the famous ‘Stonewall Brigade.’ He was promoted to Brigadier General under Joseph E. Johnston. At the battle of First Bull Run in Manassas, Jackson earned the nickname ‘Stonewall’ and was promoted to Major General. Later, he became a professor at Virginia Military Institute (VMI) in 1851.”
Jackson proved to be a master military tactician. In October 1862, Lee reorganized the Army of Virginia into two Corps with Jackson in command of 2nd Corp. Very decisive at Fredericksburg; he reached a new height of success at Chancellorsville when he struck General Hooker’s Army of the Potomac from the rear, forcing Hooker to retreat.
On May 2, 1863, Jackson was wounded by friendly fire. His arm was amputated, and he subsequently contracted pneumonia and died May 10, 1863. “His tactics of defending the Shenandoah Valley are still studied today, and his death opened the valley to invasion and destruction. His last words were ‘Let us cross over the river and rest under the shade of the trees,’” Spence said.
Spence welcomes everyone to join him and his wife Saturday for the celebration or to browse at the multitude of new items. One can warm themselves by the heater, guzzle down an old-fashioned Dr. Pepper or Root Beer and munch out on their ‘yesteryear’ candies they recently stocked for the season.
“To know truthfully where we come from is so very important to our understanding of our world today, and we feel that more people should be aware of the people and events of the past,” he concluded.